WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?
And no, I’m not talking about the Antonio Brown hissy fit. I’m talking about this game where the 11-5 defending champs should’ve taken the 4-11 New York Jets to the woodshed. Instead, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers once again decided to play down to their opponent and went to the wire before scoring the go-ahead touchdown with 15 seconds to go in the game on Sunday. With all of the injuries, the adversity, and the drama of the day and week, they found a way to win 28-24 in what should’ve been a blowout victory for them.
I don’t know what’s going on with this team. I’m still scratching my head about that Saints game two weeks ago, and now they do this? I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to find anything “GOOD” in this game. It took until there were only 15 seconds in the game before I found it. So here’s the “GOOD, BAD & UGLY” that I came up with for the Bucs vs. Jets game.
The Buccaneers’ defense was absolutely terrible in this game. Nothing was working. They didn’t have an answer for the Jets’ offense. That was until the end of the 3rd quarter. The Bucs D forced two straight three and outs (the only two of the game for the Jets offense) at the end of the third and New York’s first possession in the fourth. They did give up an 11 play/68-yard drive that took more than five minutes off the clock on the Jets’ second possession. However, they came through BIG when it counted. After marching down the field with a 24-20 lead, the Cardinals were faced with a 4th & 2 from the Buccaneers 7 yard line. They could’ve kicked the field goal to go up 27-20 with two minutes left in the game. Instead, rookie head coach Robert Saleh elected to go for it with a QB sneak. The Bucs defense made the stop and gave Tom Brady the ball back with 2:12 left on the clock. The rest is history.
Without Chris Godwin, without Antonio Brown, with just over two minutes left and down 24-20, Tom Brady showed us all why he’s “the GOAT“. He marched the Bucs 93 yards in 9 plays without throwing a single pass to Mike Evans OR Rob Gronkowski. Instead, he targeted Tyler Johnson four times, connecting on three of them for 41 yards, and Cyril Grayson five times, connecting on four of them for 52 yards, and the game-winning touchdown. It was truly an artist at work. On that drive alone, he was 7 of 9 for 93 yards and one incredible touchdown pass.
The win wasn’t surprising, but the way they won was. Almost everyone who watches football expected a massacre. On paper, it should’ve been. However, the Bucs have a knack for making things more stressful than they need to be. Tom Brady will be the first to tell you that “A win is a win, no matter if it’s by one point or forty points. They all count the same“. That is especially true when it comes to the standings. This was the Bucs’ 12th win of the season. It’s just the second time in franchise history the team has hit that mark. The other was in 2002 during their first Super Bowl run. The win also allowed them to stay tied with the 12-4 Rams, who beat the Ravens on Sunday, for playoff seeding. After losing two in a row — that they NEVER should’ve lost — the Bucs have now won six of their last seven games and have a chance at a franchise-record 13th win next week.
Tom “FREAKING” Brady
I can’t say enough about this guy in this game. He finished 34 of 50 for 410 yards, 3 touchdowns, and an interception. And I already talked about that final drive. But the most impressive thing about this win is that he kept this team together and focused on the task at hand, DESPITE Antonio Brown’s antics. Brown was literally walking across the endzone towards the tunnel while the Bucs offense was on the field marching down for a touchdown. Brady’s leadership, poise, and competitiveness are unmatched.
What can you say about this kid? He’s an amazing story. He was a world-class sprinter at LSU and never played football in college. All he did in this game was finish with 6 catches on 8 targets for 81 yards and the game-winning touchdown. In fact, in his last 3 games after being elevated from the practice squad, he’s totaled 10 catches on 12 targets for 212 yards and 2 touchdowns. He’s quickly earning himself a major role on this offense that suddenly finds itself without two of its top three receivers.
I love Gronk, but he’s been MIA over the last few weeks. He hasn’t scored a touchdown since Week 13, and he hasn’t had more than 5 catches in a game since Week 12. In his last 3 games combined, he had 8 catches on 22 targets for 114 yards. In this game, he had 7 catches on 10 targets for 115 yards. Still no “tuddies“, but he was back to being relevant in the offense again. And when that happens, it makes them much harder to stop. It was the 31st 100-yard game of his career, tying him with the great Tony Gonzalez for the most by a tight end in NFL history.
In a game where the defense was unimpressive, he’s one player that stood out. With Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett both out due to injuries, the Bucs needed someone to step up and get pressure from the edge. I thought it would’ve been Joe Tryon. Instead, it was Nelson, who finished with 3 tackles, the team’s ONLY sack, and was the highest-rated defender of the game, according to ProFootballFocus.com. He’s quietly had a solid season, with 4 sacks in his last 8 games, after totaling just one sack last year.
Ten points. That’s all the Bucs’ top-ranked offense could manage against the Jets’ 32nd ranked defense in the first half. Even though they scored on their first two possessions, ran 33 plays for 212 yards of total offense, gained 12 first downs, and had the ball for more than 16 minutes in that first half, they still didn’t produce points. Tom Brady threw an interception on their final drive of the half just as they were nearing field goal range.
Their second half was even worse. Before that final 93-yard drive, the Bucs offense had 4 possessions where they ran a total of 32 plays for 139 yards, converting just 9 first downs and scoring just 10 points. At the end of the game, they did end up with 72 plays for 467 total yards and 28 points, converting 9 of 15 third downs and their only fourth-down attempt and punting just three times. By most standards, that’s a pretty good day. For this offense against that defense, it was pathetic.
Embarrassing. The Bucs allowed the Jets offense, missing their top three receivers, their top three tight ends, their top two running backs, and two of their best offensive linemen, to gain 374 total yards (240 in the 1st half alone), score 24 points, and convert 6 of 11 third downs. The Bucs #3 run defense also gave up 150 rushing yards and 2 rushing touchdowns. They allowed Michael Carter 3 carries for 54 yards and three other rushers to average a combined 5.5 yards per carry. They also allowed five different receivers to average more than 13 yards per catch and some little white guy named Braxton Berrios 8 catches for 65 yards and a touchdown.
I know the defense had their own set of issues in this game with Lavonte David, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Shaq Barrett out, and Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting arriving late. However, the story of this day was missed tackles and gap discipline. Both were HUGE issues in this game that need to be fixed before the playoffs or this team won’t make it past the first round.
Let me start this out by saying he is one of my favorite players. That being said, he’s got to be better, especially with Lavonte David out. He finished this game with just 2 tackles and has just 14 tackles and 2 tackles for loss in the last 3 games combined. He has just 7 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks in 16 games this season with ZERO interceptions and ZERO forced fumbles. For a guy that had 15 tackles for loss and 9 sacks in 15 games last season, that’s not very good. He’s got to step his game up and play up to the level of his draft status because he’s not playing like a top-five pick right now, and this defense really needs him to be that guy.
No JPP. No Shaq. This was the rookie’s time to shine, and he did not live up to the moment. He had 3 tackles in this game with ZERO sacks. It was an opportunity for him to show that he was worthy of taking over Pierre-Paul’s starting role, and he didn’t take advantage of it. Now I’m not saying he’s not capable of it because he absolutely is, but he’s got to do a better job of making the most out of these opportunities when they are presented.
Just when I thought the Bucs might be escaping this game without any injuries, reality strikes with the news that Ronald Jones sustained a foot injury and Ke’Shawn Vaughn sustained bruised ribs. Neither player finished the game leaving recently signed Le’Veon Bell as the only healthy running back on the roster. Vaughn’s injury isn’t bad, and he should be available for next week’s game. Now the question is how bad is RoJo’s foot and how long will it keep him out? With Leonard Fournette and Giovanni Bernard both on IR already, it’s not news Bucs fans want to hear. Hopefully, it’s nothing too serious.
With about 6 minutes left in the 3rd quarter and the Bucs trailing 24-10, Antonio Brown ripped off his jersey, pads, and everything else above his waist and walked off the field. He just quit. He quit on his team. He quit on his coach. He quit on himself. And he quit his NFL career. From what I’ve gathered so far, Brown was asked to go back in, and he refused, saying his ankle was sore. Arians then told him to get in the game, and he refused again. At which point, Arians said if he wasn’t going to play to “Get outta here!“. So he did. At this time, I still don’t know the whole truth of what led to the temper tantrum, and maybe we never will, but his decision to quit sealed his fate with the team and probably this league. After the game, the first question Bruce Arians was asked during his press conference was what happened with AB? His response was, “He’s no longer a Buc“. Brown clearly has some kind of mental; and/or emotional issue going on, so a part of me is sympathetic to what he might be going through in his head. We may find out later that it’s a CTE situation. Either way, it’s a sad story, and I hope he gets the help that he needs to fix it. Whatever the case is, he quit on his family, and that’s inexcusable.
This game could’ve easily gone the other way. They were losing 24-10 midway through the 3rd quarter. Then the “incident” happened, and that could’ve been all she wrote. It was enough of a distraction to derail most teams. But not this one. After the “incident“, this team rallied together and scored 18 unanswered points in the final 20 minutes of the game to pull out the victory. They were missing players. They played a horrible game. They had the “incident” in the 3rd quarter. They got behind early and trailed the entire game. They had no business winning this game, but they did. I feel like I’ve said this a number of times this year, but it’s been a running theme this season.
Good teams find a way to win, but great teams don’t put themselves in those situations.
Yes, the Bucs are a good football team. They’re talented, and they’re deep. They’re well-coached, and they’re well prepared. But I can’t call this team “great” yet. They’ve put themselves in this situation too many times this season. I know they’ve had a ton of injuries, but it’s not an excuse. The Titans lost Derrick Henry mid-season AND AJ Brown and Julio Jones for a bunch of games and are still the #1 seed in the AFC with an 11-5 record and Ryan Tannehill at quarterback. Great teams don’t play to the level of their opponent. If they play an inferior team, they treat them as an inferior team and destroy them. They don’t let them get a 24-10 lead.
I predicted the score for this game to be a 41-16 blowout because I expected this Buccaneers team to show up and beat down a really bad Jets football team. That didn’t happen. If this team wants to make any noise in the playoffs, then they need to do some soul searching. They need to figure out why this keeps happening. Talent only gets you so far. At some point, this team has to want it more than their opponent. They have to work harder than their opponent. They have to have more heart than their opponent. They have to be more competitive than their opponent. That’s what this year’s team is missing. And they’d better find it before the playoffs start, or this will be a short post-season run for them.
THE PLAYOFF PICTURE
The Bucs were in a three-way tie with the Cowboys and the Rams, sitting in the 4th seed going into Sunday’s games. The Cowboys lost to the Cardinals, but the Rams beat the Ravens. Now they’re in a two-way tie with the Rams at 12-4 and sitting in the #3 seed. The Bucs have to beat the Panthers on Sunday— which the NFL has now flexed from the 1 pm slot to the 4:25 pm slot. They need the 49ers to beat the Rams, who are also playing a late game. If that happens, the Bucs would end up in the #2 seed and be guaranteed at least two home playoff games. As a bonus, if the 49ers beat the Rams, the Saints are officially eliminated from playoffs. So Tampa Bay fans should be San Fran fans on Sunday as well. There are too many scenarios to talk about; as far as the playoffs go. But as of right now, the Bucs will be hosting either the Eagles, 49ers, or Cardinals in the wildcard round, with Philly being the most likely opponent. (There are scenarios where the Bucs could play the Eagles as the #2 OR #3 seed). The most important thing is for the Bucs to take care of their own business and beat Carolina on Sunday. The rest is out of their control.
THE LOOK AHEAD
The Bucs are ending the regular season with a division game against the 5-11 Carolina Panthers. It appears as though Sam Darnold will be the starting quarterback with Cam Newton serving as his backup/gimmick QB. They’re still without star-running back Christian McCaffrey or any other real offensive threat, but that didn’t really stop the Jets from shredding the Bucs defense on Sunday. When these teams met in Charlotte in Week 16, the Bucs won 32-6 in dominant fashion. I’m sure that Bucs fans are hoping for similar results in their home stadium.
Until then, as always; GO BUCS!!!